This week: Remarkable stones

The spotted dolerite outcrop at Carn Goedog is thought to be the main source for the Stonehenge bluestones. IMAGE: ceridwen / Carn Goedog / CC BY-SA 2.0.

According to the 12th-century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth, the famous stones that make up the Stonehenge monument were erected originally in Ireland, before being moved to their current, more familiar home on Salisbury Plain.

Geoffrey’s claim may seem fanciful, but almost a thousand years later, we can see that he was at least partly right: painstaking research by the team led by UCL’s Professor Mike Parker Pearson now suggests that some of the ‘bluestones’ which make up the site’s inner ring did indeed originate far to the west of Wiltshire (though not in Ireland, but as part of a vast dismantled stone circle at Waun Mawn, in Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills).

Such detective work provides ample food for thought, and has attracted widespread media coverage. But it is really just an eye-catching example of the kind of challenge that archaeologists face every day, as they ponder questions about where materials come from, and how they come to be dispersed.

As we learn this week on The Past, a community project in the north of England has taken on precisely such tasks, excavating more than 15 sites on and around Hadrian’s Wall over the past three years to work out where the stones used in its construction were quarried, and how many of the same stones were re-used by local populations after the Romans departed these shores some three centuries later.

As Rob Collins and Jane Harrison explain in the latest issue of Current Archaeology magazine, the WallCAP project has provided some fascinating insights, not only into the origins of Britain’s most famous Roman ruin, but also into what happened next.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have been searching in the archives for more about extraordinary stone structures: we examined how our ancestors built dolmens, those prehistoric tombs whose capstones can weigh more than 100 tonnes; we went underground to explore the labyrinthine quarries that once built the city of Bath; we looked more deeply into evidence that Stonehenge’s bluestones in fact originated in Pembrokeshire; and we joined a project aimed at understanding how those same stones might then have been transported to Wiltshire from Wales.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around remarkable stones. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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